From the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book:
As Cormyr’s recent troubles prove, the Heartlands of Faerun are not always stable or safe. Incursions of monstrous hordes of orcs, ogres, or giants can easily overrun even stoutly defended cities. Would-be kings continually challenge the powers of the land from within, seeking to unseat the ruler. Proud and arrogant foreign powers watch warily for any sign of weakness, always ready to annex a province or sack a city. Magical disasters, plagues, and flights of raging dragons can lay low even the most peaceful and secure lands.
To fend off these dangers, most realms of the Heartlands have developed an enlightened feudal system over centuries of strife and warfare. Lords hold lands in the name of their king, raising armies and collecting taxes to defend the realms. They are expected to answer their king’s call to arms and to defend his interests to the best of their ability. This reasonably effective system supports independent war-bands in the defense of far-flung territories.
As previously noted, common farmers and simple laborers make up most of the human population of Faerun’s kingdoms and cities. The lowest class across all of the Heartlands, the peasantry forms the solid base upon which the power structures of nobles, merchants, temples, and kingdoms all rest.
Most Heartlands peasants are not bound to the lands they work and owe no special allegiance to the lord who rules over them, other than obeying his laws and paying his taxes. They do not own their farmlands but instead rent croplands and pastures from the local lord, another form of taxation normally accounted for at harvest time.
In frontier regions such as the Western Heartlands, many common farmers own and work their own lands. These people are sometimes known as freeholders if no lord claims their lands or yeoman if they are common landowners subject to a lord’s authority.
Any heroic adventurer breaks many of the rules and norms associated with the feudal hierarchy. She is often the champion of the common folk, yet granted access to the highest halls of power as an agent of her lord or king. Generations of good-hearted adventurers have helped to make Faerun a safer and better place to live, and any ruler knows that the best way to solve a sticky problem often involves finding the right adventurer for the job.
By definition, adventurers are well armed and magically capable beings who are incredibly dangerous to their enemies… and not always healthy to be around, even for their friends. Lords and merchants tread carefully around adventurers and take steps to defend themselves against a powerful adventurer who suddenly develops a crusading zeal or an appetite for power – typically by retaining skillful and well-paid bodyguards to discourage sudden violence.
Groups of adventurers sometimes form communal associations that share treasure, responsibility, and risk. Adventuring companies stand a better chance of receiving official recognition and licenses from kingdoms, confederations, and other principalities that prefer formalized relations with responsible adventuring parties to unlicensed freebooting by random adventurers. In rare cases, adventuring companies can receive exclusive rights to specific areas, making it legal for them to “discourage” their competition.
Chartered adventurers are considered officers of the realm they serve, with some powers of arrest and protection against the interference of local lords guaranteed by the terms of their charter. For example, most strangers entering a city might be required to surrender or at least peace-bond their weapons, but chartered company members are allowed to retain their arms and armor as long as they remain on their good behavior.
Most residents of the Dales, Cormyr, the Western Heartlands, and the North are well disposed towards adventurers of good heart. They know that adventurers live daily with risks they would never be willing to face themselves. The common folk eagerly seek news of travelers regarding great deeds and distant happenings, hoping to glean a hint of what the future might hold for them as well.
An adventurer willing to ally himself with a lord whose attitudes and views coincide with his own gains a powerful patron and a place in society commensurate with the influence and station of his patron. Adventurers inclined to threaten or intimidate the local ruler simply invite trouble. Those who abuse their power are thought of nothing but powerful bandits, while adventurers who use their power to help others are blessed as heroes. Adventurers are exceptional people, but they live within societies of everyday people living commonplace lives.